Column by Rob Salkowitz
Posted by Rob Salkowitz on April 2, 2018 @ 8:09 pm CT
Event organizers are likely wondering the same thing. And while a few are committed to sticking with their tried-and-true strategies, we’re seeing more creative thinking around events, formats and fan engagement as the 2018 convention season unfolds. Here are a few that pinged my radar over the last few weeks.
An Awesome Weekend in DC. Awesome Con wrapped up its sixth edition this past weekend and is establishing itself not just as a strong regional show, but as one of the more innovative and surprising events on the circuit. LeftField Media, which acquired Awesome Con in 2016 after it had several successful iterations as an independent event, has given organizer Ben Penrod the motivation and resources to put together a convention that hits all the pop culture high notes while also bringing in comic-adjacent fandoms and taking advantage of the resources of the nation’s capital.
This year, Awesome Con held even on last year’s attendance at about 70K through the turnstiles, which organizers count as a triumph considering it fell on Easter weekend. It’s also a show that’s diversified from its roots as a celebrity-focused con to a more well-rounded pop culture show.
One of Awesome Con’s unique attractions is its "FutureCon" science programming, drawing from the Smithsonian museums and Washington’s scientific and research community. "FutureCon appeals to the intellectual part of nerd identity," says LeftField Media CEO Greg Topalian. "Because it’s sponsored by Google, Netflix and Boeing, it brings in a different kind of participant.”
This year, Awesome Con was also the premiere engagement of the DC Boutique, a travelling merchandise retail activation produced by Number 6 Enterprises (spearheaded by former FanExpo head Brian Powers and Stylin’ Enterprises James Cucchiara, of "tower of t-shirts" fame) in conjunction with DC Entertainment (see "’DC Boutiques’ at 18+ Conventions").
Over the weekend, the DC Boutique handed out more than 5,000 promotional issues and sold out of its cache of show-exclusive comics, in addition to moving a lot of merchandise. Powers has said he hopes the DC Boutique can provide a DC-branded presence at major conventions around North America, and has announced collaboration with ReedPOP as well as LeftField Media to deploy the booth to other shows throughout the year.
"We covet the idea of publishers having a more direct presence at the shows," says Topalian. "It’s a cool thing. They gave away a lot of goodies for the fans and had great, unique products. Together, we got a terrific lineup of panels and programming, including Superman’s 80th anniversary."
ACE Fills a Much-Needed Void in Seattle. Last week ACE Universe, the new fan event company led by former WizardWorld founders Gareb and Stephen Shamus, unexpectedly announced a new ACE Comic Con in Seattle, scheduled for the weekend of June 22-24. Headline guests announced for the show include Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, along with an international slate of artists and creators.
Like other Ace Comic Cons, the Seattle event will take place at a sports facility, the WaMu Theater and Centurylink Field Event Center, situated between the football and baseball stadiums. Unlike Ace’s first two shows in Long Island and Glendale, AZ, the Seattle event is smack in the center of a major urban market, not out in the burbs.
On the surface, this choice sets off all the alarm-bells about oversaturation. Seattle is the host of Emerald City Comic Con, PAX West (both run by ReedPOP) and SakuraCon, three of the largest pop culture, gaming and manga/anime shows in the country, respectively. There are also a host of scrappy local cons, including Tacoma’s Jet City, Bellingham ComiCon, NorwesCon, and the up-and-coming Renton Comic Con, to fill up the calendar between mega-shows.
But here’s the rub. ReedPOP, in both word and deed, has signaled they are not interested in having ECCC be a celebrity-driven con. And why should they? The last edition set attendance records and packed the Washington State Convention Center to bursting with David Tennant, Billie Piper and Karl Urban as headliners. No point spending money to over-promote a show reliably sells out on the strength of its brand and its creator-centric identity.
All due respect to the Doctor(s), Judge and companion, but that lineup ain’t exactly the Avengers. So who’s catering to those Washington state fans who need photo-ops and autographs from A-list talent, and who may not care about all the other creator- and comic-centric stuff that ECCC does so well? Amazingly, there is a market gap, and Ace has shrewdly spotted it.
Adult Swim Dips Its Toe in the Event Pool. Another interesting announcement in the past two weeks came from Adult Swim, which sits in the Warner Bros. portfolio via Turner and Cartoon Network. Adult Swim, which had been doing some pretty elaborate events and activations at San Diego Comic-Con in addition to roadshows in secondary markets, announced a music and arts festival in downtown Los Angeles October 6 and 7.
The Adult Swim Festival, headlined by hip hop band Run the Jewels, aims to bring together different facets of Adult Swim’s young adult demographic, and will feature panel discussions with animators and creators, activations and experiences, previews of upcoming animated programming, and a marketplace with exclusive merchandise, possibly including independent artists.
Organizers have been experimenting with this kind of hybrid format for the last couple of years, with mixed results. It’s possible that a brand like Adult Swim, which has credibility in the worlds of animation, comedy, youth culture and music, can pull it off. That could help the very old tree of comic and pop culture conventions sprout some new shoots in new directions to stave off the threat of rot for another season.
Click the Gallery below for pics of brand activations for DC, Lost in Space (Netflix), Star Wars, and X – Moonshot Factory from Awesome Con last weekend!
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk) is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.
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